The recent announcement of India's squad for the ODI tri-series in Australia following the ongoing Test series Down Under was on expected lines, but what stood out was the inclusion of Sachin Tendulkar in the 17-member squad.
Tendulkar has effectively replaced the 23-year-old Ajinkya Rahane, who has had a decent start to his international career in the 50-over format. Rahane has scored 340 runs, including two half-centuries in 11 matches at an average of 30.90 and strike rate of 75.05. In these matches, Rahane has shown he has the technique, skill and temperament to succeed at the highest level.
Rahane though is still a work-in-progress at the international level, and will improve and gain confidence only when he is given a long run and knows he has the backing of the selectors and team management. This is all the more reason the decision to exclude Rahane in favour of Tendulkar is quite frankly, a baffling one.
Tendulkar has been given the luxury of choosing when and where he wants to play ODIs, and this isn’t the right way to go because whenever he decides to turn out in the Blue Jersey, it is inadvertently a youngster who has to make way and this also upsets the balance of the team. Youngsters need to be persisted with, and the exclusion of one of them only because a senior batsman decides it’s time for him to play ODIs defies logic.
In the last three years, Tendulkar has played only 34 ODIs, the last of which was the 2011 World Cup final against Sri Lanka in Mumbai. In those matches, Tendulkar has scored 1689 runs, including five centuries, at an average of 56.30 – undoubtedly remarkable numbers. But, this is all the more reason Tendulkar should have retired from ODIs when India won in Mumbai because then he could have gone out on a high not only as far as his batting form and records was concerned but also as a World Cup winner.
This would also have given the Indian team to start a new phase in the 50-over format eventually with an eye to getting a team in place for the 2015 World Cup. Graeme Smith and Kumar Sangakkara stepped down from captaincy after the World Cup for that same reason. In Smith’s case it was as the ODI and Twenty20 captain, while Sangakkara gave up captaincy altogether.
India’s selection committee for reasons best known to them is wary of phasing out the seniors, be it in Test or one-day cricket, and don’t have a transition plan in place despite the fact the ‘Big 3’ – Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman – are in the twilight of their careers. Ideally, a transition plan should have been thought of after the retirements of Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble, but while it will still be better late than never, the selectors aren’t showing any inclination of thinking about the future. Instead of putting together a plan in place even after seven comprehensive away Test defeats, the search seems to be on for a scapegoat and Laxman appears to be the one to have the Damocles sword hanging over his head.
Australia paid the price for a while after the retirements of some of their heavyweights, but are now slowly forging a team for the future. The BCCI and selectors don’t seem to have learnt even from Australia’s experience and are instead chopping and changing teams, especially the ODI team, only for the benefit of one individual, who while has been a great champion, isn’t bigger than the team.
Tendulkar should now look to have a good tournament Down Under and at least then announce his retirement from the 50-over format and concentrate only on Test cricket for the remainder of his international career. This would then give an opportunity to Rahane and other deserving youngsters to get a feel of international cricket and establish themselves in the Indian team.
But, that will only happen when the selectors and team management start thinking of a transition plan but by India captain MS Dhoni's own admission the thought hasn't crossed his mind as yet. Dhoni said, “I have not sat and thought over it. It's something everybody needs to be a part of. The players and the BCCI also. It will be a process rather than just an event. We will be carefully deciding as to what needs to be done in the best interest of the country."
For the sake of the young players and the Indian team’s supporters, one can only hope this process will happen sooner than later and no more backward steps will henceforth be taken for Indian cricket.